Tuesday, 3 March 2015

A bit of allsorts today

The Safari has been on the look out for signs of spring in the garden at Base Camp. The last few evenings we've been out with the torch to see if there were any Frogs in the pond, there weren't but we did find one of our Orfes (aka Ides) was sleeping in the shallows very close to the edge, a very vulnerable position as the local cats have often been seen on the stealth cam peering in to the water in the dead of night.
From Wiki..."The Ide reaches a maximum length of about 60–80 cm (23.5-31.5 inches) though the average size is about 40 cm (16 inches). The Ide reaches a weight of about 9 lb (4 kg)." Ours must be about 15/16 inches long or more now and we've had them over 16 years, they've even survived a house move!
The cat in the clip jumps to exactly where this fish was snoozing, although the clip is from last summer.

We didn't get much chance of any safari-ing yesterday but on the way home we stopped off at the flooded field near the nature reserve where the Green Sandpiper has been for about a week. Unfortunately we didn't have our camera or telescope with us so this is the best we could manage digi-binning it - good job it was in the closest corner of the flood.
Once back at Base Camp a look in the pond revealed the Frogs had indeed been active and left four clumps of spawn over on the far side.
This morning we were teaching rocks and stomes to Year 3 on the beach, lots of great finds but it was so so cold it must have been like torture for the poor wee ones. We had a our hands in a bucket of water to clean the sand of the stones so the youngsters could see the detail, not the best idea on a cold and very windy day like today. That stung!
We've had another go at lamping the pond this evening a couple more clumps of spawn have been added but so no sign of those slippery adult amphibians. An unusual sighting, we think, is the recently unfurled Water Lily leaf, there's another one about to reach the surface too. Is that right in the first week of March?
So there you have it a bit of spring springing in a couple of hundred words.
Where to next? We should be able to get a reasonable look at Patch 2 tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's prowling round the ponds in your outback.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

A change of plan so no twitching today

The Safari was hoping to have a wet day out watching a Waxwing in Wigan, well just outside Wigan actually, but a late change of heart about taking Frank so far we decided to stay local and do a 'Guide in the hide' session at the nature reserve.
The first thing we saw once we were ensconced in the hide was the amount of digging that has been done this week. You can just about make out the much enlarged scrape area just in front and to the left of the machines, it goes well right of them too. Not sure if that's the finished level, we expect not and it's got another couple or three inches to come off yet as it looks to be slightly higher than today's water level which is quite high after recent rain.
A count of the Coot gave us 96 from our restricted vantage point. A commotion drew our attention to the Mute Swans. Near where we parked the Land Rover there were a lot of immature Mute Swan feathers indicating a tragedy may well have occurred. The adults were giving an immature some serious grief chasing it up and down, the male being extremely aggressive. The youngster is probably one of their brood from last year and it's time to leave and find its own way in the world - Pops is setting up his territory for this year so it's leave or face the consequences which may be dire!
Wasn't quiet ready for the action kicking off so quickly and snatched the shots - sorry
There wasn't much action on the water, a few gulls and a handful of Teal in the reedy channel to our left sheltering from the heavy squally showers. A Moorhen poked around near them and a Water Rail darted across the gap.
All of a sudden a load of gulls came in and more Teal flew around and a skein of geese lifted off the fields to the north west. The culprit was the local Air Ambulance coming in to land at the Hospital. The geese were the feral flock of Barnacle Geese from the zoo so we can't add them to our Patchwork Challenge list. We got a few distant shots off but were lucky they turned our way and almost came overhead before returning to their original field.
The gulls didn't give us anything exciting except a brief fly-past of the wintering Iceland Gull and very few photo ops until a young Great Black Back Backed Gull dropped in, look how big it is compared to the Herring Gull.
The Teal started getting a bit fruity displaying and calling for fun, one of them went the whole hog...
...but will they nest here in the new creeks and pools that are about to be dug?
A Great Crested Grebe appeared from nowhere coming in to hide in the reeds with a bunch of Coots. Seven Tufted Ducks and a male Pochard also appeared, two then another four Gadwall came out of the reeds and flew to the far end of the mere.
One of the male Teal came a lot closer, nice birds! 
Dreadful weather today with driving hail and later snow had us leaving and heading back to Base Camp after only three hours.
Always something to see whatever the weather and wherever you are provided you stick it out a bit.
Where to next? Back to a wild, wet and windy Patch 2 tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's getting into the swing of spring in your outback

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Gotta get down low sometimes

The Safari was at a loss for what to do today. Wifey was having a well earned long lie in so we opened the kitchen blinds and just watched the world passing by for a while. A pair of loved-up Woodpigeons courted on the pergola and a slow but steady stream of avian visitors came to the feeders as the drizzly rain fell.
The drizzle turned to a 'mizzle' before stopping completely mid-morning so we had a mooch up the garden path going very quietly to see if there were any Frogs in the pond. We'd been out with the torch without success last night as the temperature was very mild. No Frogs this morning either but we did see that the mizzle had left droplets of water on a strip of moss growing between the paving slabs on the patio.
Recently we told you we couldn't find our snazzy flash-gun but as luck would have it we came across is yesterday hiding in plain sight. Time for it to see some action!
The super-macro lens had an outing too. With the subject growing low on the ground the only way to get a pic is to get down to that level, good job the ground had dried out a bit in the wind and that twisting screen on the back of the camera really does help prevent a serious crick in the neck.
There truly is a beautiful world in miniature out there, one we hope to explore more often this coming season. Gotta be all manner of goodies to find down there.
The rest of the day we kept an eye on the birdlife coming and going. We ended upwith 11 species, just couldn't make the dozen, where were those Long Tailed Tits that have been popping in and out recently when you want them, or one of the Collared Doves that co-coo-COOs from the neighbour's aerial when we're leaving to go to work .
The totals were, the two Woodpigeons , a pair of Great Tits, two Blue Tits probably a pair as they were together, Goldfinches, an unknown total coming and going through the day, at least four Greenfinches, great views of a Wren very close to the kitchen window, they've not been a particularly frequent visitor so far this year, a female Chaffinch was using the 'secondary' feeder and later a very bright male, the pair of Magpies were in and out usually ripping great chunks out of the suet block but one of them also came to try to rip live twigs off the Silver Birch tree, not sure why as there are similar sized twigs lying on the ground from recent pruning activities - very fresh ones are more flexible? - he didn't manage to brake any off, it took a while before a Blackbird showed up and he too laid in to the suet block, the temperature this arvo was a mild 9C but the birds musta been feeling the nippy wind that was getting up. The last species in the notebook was a pair of Dunnocks complete with armpit showing wing flicking display and bouts of chase me chase me.
We had an early evening look for some Frogs but no joy again, we'll try later as it's started raining again and the thermometer is still showing mild temperatures - come out come out wherever you are - they've gotta be a-croakin soon.
Where to next? Our usual late start on a Sunday but we have a long distance plan - well not quite as long as last Sunday.
In the meantime let us know who's down there close to the ground in your outback

Friday, 27 February 2015

The signs of spring are everywhere

The Safari has been noticing a large increase in the signs of spring these last few days staring in the garden at Base Camp where the Clematis is shooting nicely and the Crocuses are adding a bright splash of color
Around town on the verges the Crocuses we planted 15 or more years ago as some of the million bulbs we planted for the Millennium are showing a riot of colour now, the Daffodils will be out shortly.
Outside the front door at work there is a mystery plant, it's got us really stumped but will probably be IDd as something really obvious - answers on a digital post card please.
Looks a bit Lesser Celandine-y but not quite
Yesterday afternoon we were invited to a site visit and project update at the nature reserve. We arrived a bit early and were able to have a look at the other engineering work being done at the spillway by the Environment Agency - it's coming along nicely; the new 'river' is taking shape.
Rule 1 don't shoot into low sunshine with a dirty lens - hope you can see the works. The old spillway to the right is still flowing but will be collapsed/demolished in due course
Going through the gate one of the Hawthorns in the hedge is well advanced and many others have plenty of green showing through opening buds
We were shown some of the habitat work the volunteers had done earlier in the week - wow - impressive, the Whitethroats and Willow Warblers are going to love it when they arrive in April, they could even risk losing a few more of the shrubs where they are growing close together.
We had to have a sneaky peek at the Long Eared Owl too, and there it was on its usual perch, looked like it had hardly moved a muscle since the last time we saw it.
Time for the first look at the works where the new 'panoramic' hide is going. The circled area is the start of the raised mound it will sit on. It's got a way to go yet at full height it'll be well above the top of the reeds. The dashed line is the route of the path which will lead to it up a graded slope.
It used to look like this
There's a huge patch of mud to the right which has covered the original vegetation but thankfully there wasn't anything of real note there. It'll be interesting to see what comes up, other than Phragmites (Common Reed) and Phalaris (Reed Canary Grass) that is.
There were Cetti's Warblers singing all around us, the works certainly haven't put them off! Song Thrushes too where very noticeable, they seem to be well on the way to recovery after the national population crash in recent years.
A look through the fence at the island works showed them to coming along nicely, provided the rain keeps away.
The walk back - it's still not possible to complete thee circuit and wont be for a few weeks yet - gave us cracking views of a Barn Owl (MMLNR #71) flying out to hunt. A good end to a good visit. We're going to get a group together to build a superb replacement for the box on the island next winter ready for the 2016 breeding season, Swallows might be beneficiaries too.
No news today we've been to busy in the office to get out other than quick looks at Patch 2 where nothing special was on offer. We had hoped fro another site visit to check out our 'Grass Snake' site for a volunteer work party next weekend but got waylaid by the computer, we'll do it on Monday.
Where to next? It's the weekend, a safari is deffo on the cards and we have a bit of a target to aim at  if we can get there.
In the meantime let us know who hasn't moved a muscle since last week in your outback

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The nature elves have been busy today

The Safari was out early to the local little woodland on the way to work if we take the inland route. A rather bonny fungus has been found in there and we had to have a look. The woods were damp from overnight rain and birdsong filled the air, as much as it could above the noise of the traffic, bring on quiet electric vehicles with 'quiet' tyres as soon as maybe please. We knew roughly where to look and soon found the spots of bright red among the brown and green hes of the woodland floor. There on an old moss covered fallen log was what we were looking for - a beautiful display of Scarlet Elf Cup fungi. They were rather larger than we'd imagined the biggest ones being about an inch or more across, when we've seen them before they must have been younger specimens as they were only about the size of your little finger nail.
Well chuffed we had a quick wander through the woods was filled with wonder as we listened to the birds and hoping to catch a glimpse of some of them, we had a target in mind. Wrens and a Goldcrest were seen along with a Blue Tit giving a nest box a serious inspection. Song Thrushes vied with Blackbirds for the loudest voice but we didn't see or hear our quarry.
Under foot green shoots broke through the leaf-litter including lots of Snowdrops and newly unfurled leaves of Ramsons washed clean by the rain - it' s going to be smelling of garlic in there soon.
We retraced our steps back to the Scarlet Elf Cups and above them we saw a Jay (MMLNR #70) fly in to the top of the tree. This area is part of our recording area for our Patchwork Challenge this year. Result, as we saw it fly off we looked back and it was still there - TWO! Swinging the camera round we fired off of few shots only to realise that it was still set for small fungi on the dark woodland floor. Oops.
A Jay - honest!
Once at work we had another gull count on Patch 2 where there were over 750 mixed gulls feeding on the shellfish wrecked up by yesterday's rough weather. There were Lesser Black Backed Gulls (P2 35) out there for the first time. 184 Oystercatchers were out there too with about an uncounted dozen or so Redshanks. We didn't have time to look at the sea unfortunately.

A bit of research at lunchtime revealed Scarlet Elf Cups to be Red Listed in Europe despite being found widely around the world on all continents except Antarctica. They aren't officially recorded in town or the wider area but we've been told they've been in the woods there for several years and were noted in a report on the site's fungi a few years ago.
Here's a screenshot of the NBN map

We've seen them at the very well recorded and reported Leighton Moss RSPB reserve north of Lancaster, note the absence of purple squares up that way...hmm some serious data inputting is needed.
And there's more! Mid-afternoon news broke of a Green Sandpiper easily twitchable on the way back to Base Camp after work. We offered BD a lift if he could get to us before we set off. He's not had a lot of luck with this species, in fact he's had no luck at all as he's not seen one ever, all the ones he's been to have managed to successfully avoid his lens and bins without much trouble.
At last an easy one we pulled up got out of the Land Rover scanned the pool and there it was with a Curlew. Green Sandpiper (115), if only they would drop in a the nature reserve more often than hardly ever. Thanks FB - we owe you another one!
This time of year it's well worth stopping of at your local woods before work and having a few minutes mooch about - it'll set you right up for the rest of the day!
Where to next? Who knows it's been a bit lively up this way so far this year.
In the meantime let us know what's brightening up the woodlands in your outback.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

A surprise trip to South Wales

The Safari hasn't been able to get out to find anything for you today but fortunately our Extreme Photographer has sent some pics over in recent days about his new place in the country. It's a small cottage set in a farmyard out in the sticks and it has a fairly large pond. He tells us the pond has been the subject of intensive study by a local prominent entomologist and apparently is full to busting with dragonflies. Roll on summer, that's what we say!
It needs a bit of work as there is an invasive garden centre weed in there that's swamping the native plants, he'll do some raking out as time permits.
He's put up a feeding station that's attracting a good variety of birds already. He asks you excuse the pics as they are taken through still dirty windows - if time permits a hide will be built outside.
The Jackdaws are a greedy pain now they've learned how to attack the feeders and are costing him a fortune in seed.
He had a short trip out on Sunday before the weather closed in. He was looking for a Great Grey Shrike which wasn't there but he did find some interesting boxes, for Dormice...we've never seen one of those anywhere ever.
We hope you enjoyed the trip down to Pembrokeshire, we sure we'll be back there before to long with all manner of invertebrate and other non-avian news for you.
Where to next? News broke today of a super little thing that as far as we're aware is the first for the local and perhaps wider area, deffo worth a look in the morning but what do you think it might be.
In the meantime let us know who's been stuffing their face on your hared earned in your outback.

Monday, 23 February 2015

A much much bigger marsh this time

The Safari went on a bit of a roadtrip on Sunday, somewhere we've not been for about 17 or more years. We'd been invited to join the high tide watch at the famous RSPB reserve by young volunteer FW. He's an old hand at this venue but still only turned 13 earlier in the week. The journey started well as we loaded the car for the day but as soon as the doors were shut the rain started and the wind picked up, sleety rain at that.
Before setting off we'd read a few Twitter feeds and a blog or two and noticed the last line of this one and we had a strange inkling that he might have come all the way up this way and it's a long way from his home in the East Midlands, double the distance we'd traveled and we'd traveled through some horrid snow showers to get here. We pulled round the corner onto the Promenade, saw the pavilion folk were watching from and there, as if by magic, he was...spooky!
We joined our long-standing birding chums of many years and also briefly met LMcR of AFON and lots of other folk who's photos and commentary we enjoy on Twitter - very nice to meet you all at last, we're sure our paths will cross again fairly soon.
On arrival we learned we'd just missed a Great White Egret but were hopeful as it hadn't gone far just in to a creek out of sight.
Being birthday time a rather delicious cake appeared and plenty for everyone - thanks H - yummo

Looks like we've done something horrible to IH in the background
The tide was still well out and after meeting and greeting we decided to get out of the cold and wet and get some lunch in the pub, rashly or generously we left our scope in the hands of the assembling crowd - good job they're an honest bunch. Young HW joined us and we kept an eye on the group stood out in the elements through the window making sure they weren't all staring intently at something we were missing. They weren't they were just stood round chatting.
All of a sudden through a different window we saw a load of Lapwings and Starlings lift and swirl round. Little H dashed to the window and shouted "it's a Merlin!" Great ID skills from the young 10 year old!
After lunch we rejoined the others and saw that the tide was now well risen. A pair of Red Breasted Mergansers were fishing in the pool in front of us. There were a few Little Egrets around but still no sign of the Great White Egret, never mind there was plenty of time for it to be flushed out of its creek by the rising waters.
We were asked to cast an opinion on a raptor sat way out on a piece of driftwood. It was small and pale so a Merlin was the verdict, was it the one H had seen earlier?
A shout of "Hen Harrier" went up from MA and looking to our right a 'ring-tail' (113) was coming towards us out on the water's edge. It wasn't long before a second appeared; excellent! We've not seen one for a couple of years and then two in a matter of minutes. This one was closer as the tide was now advancing very rapidly. We got super views but didn't take any pics, too excited just watching them we're afraid.
There was a flurry of activity as the water reached the last dry bits of marsh forcing waders and ducks to find the driest 'heights'. There were Teal, Wigeon, Shelducks, Mallards, Snipe, Redshank, Oystercatchers, Curlews and more Little Egrets all looking for somewhere dry to roost. Even a couple of Cormorants flew out of the creeks and out into the estuary.
Both we and MA picked up a distant fast low raptor at the same time which we lost behind someone's head but must have landed somewhere out there;we both thought Peregrine but no-one else got on it.
The tide was being pushed out of the river by the strong wind today and so took longer to reach the wall so we missed the small mammals escaping the flood. Many would have been eaten or drowned on the previous couple of days higher tides anyway. Some of our party saw a couple of large Brown Rats but that was about it. There was still no sign of the Great White Egret  - so a bad dip.
With a recent birthday to celebrate at Ma n Da's we had to leave but a minor detour to another site where a Laughing Gull has been hanging round for a couple of weeks or so.
The tide was still high so the chances were it would be on its favoured spot on the pontoon in the marine lake with the roosting waders. We were lucky to get a very close car park space as it was petty busy down there. Two lads were already there sheltering under the canopy of the lakeside shops looking at the pontoon - a good sign. Or not so good as it turned out, they'd been braving the driving sleet for half an hour or more and not seen it.
We looked through the assembled waders, mostly Redshanks and Turnstones with a few Dunlins and Purple Sandpipers there too - no sign of our American friend though; dohhhh not another dip? We gave the gulls on the on the water a look, it wasn't with them. Then a movement on the pontoon caught our eye, scanning back there it was plain as day, musta flown in from the sea - Laughing Gull (114).
With the fierce weather conditions we didn't bother with the nearby Snow Buntings, musta been bad as we still need them in our Year List Challenge with Monika. Just hope we get them later in the year or we don't draw or  get beaten by one species!
Birthday duties done it was straight back to Base Camp along the dark wet motorways. As we approached our exit junction a Barn Owl ghosted along the rough grass too our left - A good end to a great day.
Where to next? Back on familiar Patch 2 territory tomorrow provided the wind doesn't throw the sea over the wall.
In the meantime let us know who's gliding gracefully over the marsh in your outback.